Sephardic hospitality: why we make you snack with us

When a person shows up on the doorstep of a Sephardic home, they can be sure of one thing: if they cross the threshold, they will be made to eat. In our concept of hospitality is the notion that you feed everyone who comes to your home – even the unexpected visitor – and you get right to it. Dragging your heels to put out a snack is very bad form, as is a visitor’s refusing food when it’s offered. This means chances are you can’t pop over to a Sephardic home for just five minutes, but that’s soon forgiven. In my parents’ home, pretty much everyone who showed up at our door was greeted warmly and welcomed this way, which frankly was really nice.

The idea is that everyone who enters your home is a guest. You may be happier to see some more than others, but you welcome them all with something edible – a beverage alone just doesn’t cut it – and let each figure out when it’s time to leave. It’s not always practical, but it’s a nice philosophy. And you can certainly beg off if you’re really heading out, or if the stranger at the door has a vibe like Charles Manson. We’re hospitable, but we’re not nuts.

My mother has always been a champion Sephardic hostess. As far back as I can remember, when someone dropped by unexpectedly, within a minute or two she had a kettle on the stove and good food on the table. Sweet or savory, whatever was on hand; there might be pastry, cookies, cake, fruit, biscuits, cheese, olives. She didn’t ask if you were hungry; she took charge, setting the table with style and a generous hand while good conversation got underway. Impromptu visits in our home took place around the dining room table.

What a lovely custom. It’s not about showing off your dishes or how well you cook or stock your pantry; without the distraction of hunger, it’s just easier to focus on conversation. When a Sephardi offers you a snack, it’s to say “I’m listening.”

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9 Comments

Filed under Customs

9 responses to “Sephardic hospitality: why we make you snack with us

  1. healthgal

    What a lovely tradition. It was that way in my mothers home and all my aunts. We always had something that could be put out at a moments notice, for example, Biscochos, to mention only one treat. Oh, we had rose petal jam to put on crackers or one tbs in water makes a divine cool drink.
    Estelle, a proud Sephardic woman.

  2. You describe this lovely tradition so nicely. It bring back nice memories. 🙂

  3. Rachel Radna

    It was that way in my mother’s home as well. I especially can relate to the fact that your mom did not ask if a person was hungry. My mom taught me that you only ask a person who is sick if they want something to eat or drink. There was such a warm atmosphere around those unexpected visits which ended with my mother reading the Turkish Coffee pattern left on the reversed cups. What an enchanting time those days were…

  4. Estelle hasson abisror

    It was a wonderful way to grow up. You were always greeted with a smile and food.

    Stel

  5. Yehuda

    Its still the same way in my family. Also in most Israeli homes regardless of “ethnicity” the custom became part of the folk. In my parents, grandparents and relatives I remember “Kucharikas Dulzes.” Every body’s home used to be equipped with a set of spoons and a special dish designed to welcome anyone knocking at the door, they had jams of fruit, usually figs and dates or any other fruit in season that was turned into jam. Also nuts were always at hand to put on the table and the Aftave tea-pot was ready to boil water for the most delicious teas, there were bizkochos, mustachikos, and all sort of cookies, with the addition of fruits. My Nonas used to tell us that sweets disarm anyone. Also there was always extra chairs in case some unexpected visitor which “bar-minah!” could be Eliahu Ha-Navi. It seems that the stove and the ovens were always busy. Well we continue welcoming anyone maybe not as royally as before but in the same spirit. Thank you for your endyamantado artikulo.

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